Foto: Michel Pellanders, 1987

Asurini do Tocantins

  • Autodenominação
    Asurini
  • Where they are How many

    TO516 (Siasi/Sesai, 2012)
  • Linguistic family
    Tupi-Guarani

History of contact

asurini_tocan_3

The Asuriní of the Tocantins first appear in the historical archives in the context of the advance of the colonizing front at the start of the 20th century, in the region above the Itaboca Waterfall (now covered by the Tucuruí HEP reservoir).

From the 1920s onward, the region from Marabá to Tucuruí became an important area for commercial Brazil nut harvesting. With the aim of ensuring transportation of the Brazil nut harvests from Marabá to Belém, the decision was made to build the Tocantins Railroad, which would by-pass the twelve kilometres of rapids on the Tocantins river, uniting the localities of Tucuruí (known at the time as Alcobaça) and Jatobal. This railway crossed the territory of the Asuriní and Parakanã, who reacted vehemently to the invasion.

The Tocantins Railroad was begun in 1895 and partially completed only in 1945. In 1935, only about 67 kilometres had been built of the 117 initially planned.
Conflicts between Indians and railroad workers erupted at the end of the 1920s. In 1928, after a raid organized by the engineer Amyntas Lemos that resulted in the death of eight Indians, the Asuriní intensified their attacks against the regional population. Two years later, the Asuriní attacked and killed Brazil nut harvesters close to the place called Joana Peres. In May of the same year (1930), they killed another two people. Then in 1933 they retaliated against a police railcoach, killing and plundering the party on the 14 kilometre point of the railway. In 1937, the Asuriní came into contact with employees of the SPI. Soon after, however, they were attacked by railroad workers and in reprisal invaded a cabin, killing two people and injuring a third.

In 1945, the director of the Tocantins Railroad and the special delegate of the Tucuruí police organized an armed expedition against the Asuriní. A massacre was only averted because the Indians were unable to be found by their pursuers. The SPI filed a law suit against the engineer, but the denunciation was thrown out as inadmissible by the Cametá judge.

In 1948, the Asuriní entered into contact with the regional population, in the village called Cachoeira de Itaboca, but were repelled by gunfire and pursued through the forest for two days. In 1949, the Asuriní killed a woman on the 52km of the railway, and a worker on the 18km. In the same year, they attacked the SPI cabin located on the 67km, injuring an employee.

1949 was one of the most critical years in the ongoing conflict. The small farm holders eventually abandoned their plantations and the railway maintenance teams could only work under the protection of armed guards. During the year, the SPI intensified its attempts to contact the Asuriní, eventually achieved four years later.

Official contact between the Asuriní and the SPI 'attraction team' took place in March 1953, at a place called the 'Apinajé site,' between the Piranheira and Trocará creeks, close to the area they occupy today.

The Asuriní's decision to seek out the SPI encampment seems to have been motivated by their conflicts with the Parakanã. A large Parakanã attack probably led one of the Asuriní groups to look for help from the attraction team's employees. This group was made up of 190 Indians who took up residence next to the SPI post.
In the same year as this contact, more than fifty Indians died from influenza and dysentery. This period is described by the Asuriní as a period during which they did not even have time to bury all their dead.

Most of the survivors of the catastrophe caused by contact returned to the forests in the same year of 1953. Only a small group remained with the SPI until 1956. However, in this year they decided to leave the post due to a fallout with the SPI employees, coming back two years later in 1958.

Then in 1962, the second Asuriní group which had remained in the forest reappeared at the SPI post. Again, influenza provoked a series of deaths and the survivors decided to return once more to the Pacajá region. When the anthropologist Roque Laraia visited the Asuriní in 1962, he encountered a population of 35 Indians. Laraia observed that the Asuriní were living in a situation of extreme dependency on the employees of the Trocará post, while going through a phase of profound social disorganization as a result of the drastic reduction in their population.

At the same time, the group that had returned to the Pacajá region found themselves without any assistance from the indigenist body, living on hunting, fishing, agriculture and small-scale commercial trading with the regional non-indigenous population.
The group remained in the region of the middle-upper course of the Pacajá river until 1974 when they moved to the Trocará. All the signs are that the two local groups on the Trocará and the Pacajá maintained intermittent contacts up until the time they came together.

In 1973, researchers from the Summer Institute of Linguistics (Nicholson and Aberdour) visited the Asuriní on the Pacajá and brought a tape recording of the Trocará group inviting them to visit. The invitation, compiled with the difficulties stemming from the lack of government assistance, led the Asuriní on the Pacajá to relocate to the Trocará. According to its reports, FUNAI sent a boat to fetch them in 1974. Since this time the Asuriní have never returned to the Pacajá.